BOSTON - The Fenway Park debacle still loiters in A.J. Burnett's mind, though not the debacle you may think.
His start here last Aug. 22 - the "why, why, why?" game in which he allowed a career-worst nine earned runs in five innings - may come to most fans' minds, but Burnett said the worst game of his 2009 season was a 16-11 loss April 25 at Fenway.
"No question," Burnett said Sunday when asked if that game was the low point. "We got on him [Josh Beckett] early, I think. I think I went three or four zeros and then . . . "
The 6-0 lead the Yankees accumulated against Beckett quickly vanished as Burnett allowed eight runs in the fourth and fifth innings, including a grand slam by Jason Varitek. The Yankees got Burnett off the hook by taking a 10-9 lead, but Boston scored seven runs in the seventh and eighth against the bullpen.
Burnett, who starts Tuesday night against Jon Lester, was 0-2 with a 14.21 ERA in three starts at Fenway and 0-2 with an 8.85 ERA in four overall starts against Boston last year. He allowed six home runs in 122/3 innings at Fenway, including the one by David Ortiz on Aug. 22 that prompted the "why, why, why?'' from an agitated Burnett (he said he was questioning his own pitch selection, not Jorge Posada's).
It was a far cry from his work against the Red Sox in 2008, when he went 2-0 with a 2.60 ERA in four starts, including 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in two starts at Fenway totaling 132/3 innings.
"Whatever happened last year happened," Burnett said. "Whatever happened in '08 happened. I can't go back and do anything about either."
That's not to say he finds either year irrelevant. Burnett has watched video of both seasons and joked that he watched 2008 after viewing 2009. "I guess kind of a positive reinforcement," he said.
The problem he detected last year was trying to be too precise. After bad starts in 2009, Burnett often said he was thinking too much; after good ones, he lauded his ability to think as little as possible.
"Just kind of overdoing it, not getting ahead, trying to be too fine," Burnett said of his 2009 starts against the Red Sox. "Trying to do things I wasn't doing in the past, for reasons I don't know why. Just not being me."
He seemed to be himself more often with backup catcher Jose Molina than with Posada. But he and Posada, at least to start this season, are stuck with each other. And both say they prefer it that way.
At the onset of spring training, both expressed a desire to work together, and Posada said Sunday that Burnett told him last October that the pitcher's preference was to have him behind the plate.
After the Aug. 22 outing, the two worked together only once more, Sept. 1 in Baltimore - when Burnett allowed six runs and 11 hits in 51/3 innings - plus parts of games in the postseason after Posada pinch hit for Molina.
That the pair's first start of 2010 will take place at the site of their most public on-field dust-up last year brought out the gallows humor in each.
"Get it out of the way right away," Posada said, laughing. "Looking forward to it."
Said Burnett: "I'm going to have to pitch here eventually. It just happens to be the first start. That's in the past, and I think it's in the past for both of us. We're just looking forward to getting out there and having fun together."
Notes & quotes: Fifth starter Phil Hughes struck out 12 and allowed three hits in the equivalent of 81/3 scoreless innings in a simulated game, pitching against players from the Yankees' extended spring training program Monday. Hughes, who threw 100 pitches - 70 for strikes - told The Associated Press he was "very happy" with his control and the outing overall.